Screen Gems

Under the direction of rocker Bill Orcutt, the Alliance for Media Arts keeps the faith for Miami's cinema aficionados

"That's a huge accomplishment," asserts Morris. "They've been great getting the word out and doing all the legwork. There's less of an audience for small films now than there was ten or fifteen years ago. You need an intellectually curious audience, and you don't have much of that in this country. There's a huge market for the bigger stuff, like The Crying Game or The Piano or even Remains of the Day, but to mobilize people to see Inside Monkey Zetterland or Romper Stomper is much more difficult." Small films often have a limited number of prints in circulation, so the Alliance may not receive the film they're opening on a Friday evening until Friday afternoon. It's hard, if not downright impossible, to do long-range planning or promotion with logistics like that.

Rem Cabrera, the Grants and Programs Administrator for the Metro-Dade Cultural Affairs Council, seconds Morris's assessment of the Alliance's value -- and his council has backed it up by awarding the Alliance several grants for renovations and equipment upgrades. "They're a phenomenal organization," Cabrera enthuses. "They pull off miraculous feats on a shoestring budget. They're always looking for new ways to serve the community, like the production co-op or the gay and lesbian film festival. I don't think the community appreciates how much the resurgence of vitality on South Beach is due to the influence of arts groups like the Alliance that went there first."

A timid viewing public and the caprices of small film distributors are just two of the obstacles Orcutt has had to face. Every year he hears rumors that a new multiplex will open in the area and put the Alliance out of business. But Orcutt believes that even if one of the big chains were to move in -- AMC, Wometco, and New York-based Angelika Film Centers have reportedly expressed interest in the area -- the presence of a mainstream cinema would have little or no effect on the Alliance's alternative audience.

Ironically, no one is more surprised by the Alliance's success than the equable supervisor during whose tenure the growth has occurred.

"To tell you the truth, I wasn't real keen on the theater's chances when I came on. It was more like, 'How many bills can we pay before we close?'" Orcutt admits.

He's had to make compromises to keep the cinema going. The Alliance's executive director regrets that under his aegis the Alliance has, in order to attract a wider audience, been forced to steer away from truly innovative filmmaking in favor of more accessible (and therefore popular) features like Jam centsn Jam centsn. As a quick listen to Harry Pussy's (the name was lifted from a Yoko Ono song) anti-melodic, high-decibel aural assault confirms, Orcutt is not a man who lives in fear of pushing the envelope. The band's live shows are rare, thanks in no small part to the Alliance's demands on Orcutt's time. The name would probably be a bigger issue if the band tried to play out more often or to promote itself in the local media. But, true to their underground nature, the band members have little interest in mainstream publicity. But they've still managed to release two seven-inch singles, one of which was picked up for national distribution by the prestigious Matador label. Their incendiary tune "Brown" is a highlight of enigmatic local rock oracle Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra's Live at Churchill's CD; Falestra, the front man for Scraping Teeth (named the worst band in America by Spin magazine in 1993) was an early Harry Pussy booster and remains an ardent fan.

As if managing the theater, hobnobbing with the representatives of funding agencies, and leading the band weren't enough to keep him occupied, Orcutt is also an accomplished experimental filmmaker himself. He hasn't had much time to pursue that muse since he took over at the Alliance in 1991, but before then Orcutt showed a great deal of promise. MTV, that paragon of popular culture, purchased one of his shorts for $5000 in 1990; it was a stark twenty-second black-and-white clip of an elderly woman with her face contorted into a scream A but with no sound save for the amplified whoosh of an oscillating wire-framed fan whirring in the background.

Orcutt, however, didn't start out to be a filmmaker. He graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in English in 1984, then took a master's in the subject from UM two years later. It was during his undergraduate years as a Gator that he developed an interest in unconventional cinema after attending a seminar taught by one of his idols, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote the script for 1961's innovative classic Last Year at Marienbad. Years after taking that course, while Orcutt was conducting an interview with the Frenchman for La bete arts magazine, Robbe-Grillet began insulting his respectful inquisitor to impress the attractive female interpreter who was translating for them. Orcutt, stung by the French master's criticism, returned fire in English. The interview ended with Robbe-Grillet punching the American and storming out in a huff. The fact that this incident did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for cutting-edge cinema is testimony to the depth of Orcutt's commitment to the art form.

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